Did elitism doom the fairgrounds?

Sunday, November 1, 2009 at 10:45pm

Nashville owns some prime real estate that is utilized by relatively few citizens, maintained by tax dollars, returns little or no profit and would be an absolute gold mine for developers.

No, we’re not talking about the State Fairgrounds.

We’re referring to the seven golf courses that the city owns and maintains. How many millions of dollars would Harpeth Hills, rolling green hills spilling out from Percy Warner Park, for example, fetch on the open market?

Or how about city parks? Imagine the condos that could be built in Sevier Park and on Percy Warner’s pastoral steeplechase course. The underutilized Rose Park has stunning views of downtown.

Why isn’t there the same clamor at city hall to “develop” Metro’s other thousands of open acres as there is for the precious 114 that comprise the fairgrounds?

We may not know why, but we have an idea why. It’s because the folks who make these types of Metro-centric decisions aren’t interested in stock car racing, fairs or flea markets. And they don’t know Coo Coo Marlin from a corn dog.

And so, on June 30, 2010, the fairgrounds and the era it represents — from roaring racecars, cotton candy and Ferris wheels to prize pigs and pumpkins — will come to an end.

That’s even though the Fairgrounds Heritage Preservation Group claims that the mayor has no authority to end it, citing a 1901 piece of state legislation that puts Metro under obligation to host a permanent state fair at the site.

That’s after Metro Legal’s Doug Sloan partially agreed with the group, saying the final authority lies in the hands of the Fair Board.

And it’s after Mayor Karl Dean issued a letter to the board on Oct. 5, “recommending” the closure.

Measuring support

In the letter, Dean said he realized the decision to close shop was difficult, but “given the inability of either [track or fair] to support itself financially, it is simply time for us, as a city, to move on.”

Not everyone agrees about the level of support at the venue.

Fair Director Buck Dozier, for one, disputes the contention that there’s no interest in old-fashioned events in our newfangled city. The former board chairman said that despite several rainy nights this year, September’s 10-day state fair drew 209,131 visitors.
That’s the equivalent of three Tennessee Titans sellouts. And the Nashville Predators would kill for those numbers over a pair of six-game home stands.

Then there are the thousands who flock to the flea market, Christmas Village, various outdoor shows, exhibits and numerous other events. And thousands more who faithfully attend the weekly races at the historic old Fairgrounds Speedway — the Wrigley Field of racetracks — where some of the greatest drivers in racing history competed at one time or another.

It’s unlikely that any municipal golf course or city park is utilized by nearly as many people as visit the fairgrounds each year.

Dean mentioned that the fair couldn’t support itself financially, but it didn’t go begging Metro for money as some other entities have done, and no tax dollars go directly to the site. Instead, its operating losses eat into its reserve fund.

“We don’t cost the taxpayers anything,” said Danny Denson, who has operated fairgrounds Speedway in this, its final season. “Not a cent of tax revenue goes to the fairgrounds. We may not make a lot of profit, but we don’t lose any tax money — which is more than most Metro-operated facilities can say.

“I once heard somebody say that the city doesn’t need a ‘playground for race drivers.’ Well, the city sure has a lot of ‘playgrounds for golfers.’ What the difference?”

The racetrack was built with private funds in 1958 by Bill Donoho and partners. It has been maintained by private funds ever since. The track operator leases the facility from Metro for a set fee and/or share of the profits.

“I could understand shutting it down if it was eating up tax revenues the way some other pro sports do,” Denson said. “But the track has never cost the city a nickel.”

(Metro did, though, assist the track by lowering its rent in the last decade — from as much as $250,000 to an almost negligible sum this year.)

The riverfront’s $250,000 “Ghost Ballet” sculpture (which could as easily be deemed “Wreck In Turn Three”) cost taxpayers more than the fairgrounds. When The City Paper reported on the installation of the sculpture, one reader commented that “leftover parts from torn-down Opryland is what [“Ghost Ballet”] looks like to me.” The analogy is somewhat fitting, given that the former theme park was
another piece of countrified cheese the city had no trouble getting rid of either.

‘Hee-Haw’ fears

There is a theory we have no trouble embracing that some of Nashville’s “progressive” movers and shakers are eager to shed the city’s perceived Hee-Haw image — namely, country music, stock car racing and country-bumpkin fairs and flea markets.

“First they moved the Grand Ole Opry out of town, and now they’re running stock car racing out,” Denson said. “They’re doing away with the history and tradition that made our city so unique and special. It’s sad to see.”

It’s true the Ryman Auditorium remains, but the Opry’s fans got shuffled across the Cumberland River, so the “Mother Church of Country Music” could host shows by Kid Rock, the Jonas Brothers and Flight of the Conchords.

The remodel may be coincidental, but looking back it can easily be perceived as calculated or elitist.

The original Country Music Hall of Fame used to grace the edge of Music Row, next to a Shoney’s and across the street from tacky souvenir shops. Now, the new hall is downtown near the Schermerhorn Symphony Center and the Sommet Center, and the tacky shops have given way to more hip eateries and boutiques, including an Irish pub and a sushi restaurant.

Opryland’s ruins were rebuilt as Opry Mills, a grandiose oval housing merchandise tailored more for tourists than local folk.

And while the city still loves to tout its Lower Broadway and its honky-tonks, the dirt and grime were cleaned up considerably in the past couple of decades, turning seedy into trendy.

So where do our ordinary folks go? Well, the fairgrounds — the flea market and the noisy, dusty oval racetrack.

Some think it was constant complaints about the track noise that helped lead to the decision to shut down operations. After all, some neighborhood groups have complained about the track noise for years. Now, they fully support the mayor’s recommendation to close it down.

Is racing noisy? Of course it is. It was noisy when the first race was run at the fairgrounds in 1904, and it’s been noisy ever since.

But as third-generation racer Sutherlin Marlin reminded the Fair Board during a recent meeting, only residents older than 105 have a right to complain. All others knew racing was there when they moved in.

“It’s like somebody buying a house by the airport — usually at a pretty good bargain — then complaining about the planes flying over,” Denson said. “There’s not a single person living in this neighborhood [near the track] who wasn’t aware that there was a racetrack here when they moved in.”

What’s next?

Metro officials seem anxious to close the fairgrounds, yet what they intend to do with the property remains unclear. Proposals have ranged from building low-income housing to creating another business park.

In May 2008, then-Executive Director Dozier and a paid consultant, Rod Markin, told about 100 residents and interested parties at a board meeting that something had to change to give the fairgrounds a future. The pair tossed out several scenarios, ranging from keeping an updated fair site to tearing everything out and redeveloping the property as a residential and commercial site.

“The bottom line is the bottom line. So that is going to drive a lot of what we do here,” Dozier said at the time, indicating that whatever goes on the site will have to generate more money.

“The racetrack’s been losing money, the fair has just lost some money in the last few years, so we’ve got to look at some things,” he said, adding, “We’ve got a valuable piece of property here.”

The mayor cites a study concluding that the fairgrounds would require new and modern facilities to be successful.

“Anything that happens with the racing and the fair and fairgrounds staying here, there needs to be a substantial change in that business model,” Markin warned that night, but he and the board said all options were “on the table.”

Mayor Dean looked at several proposals — including ones for a water park and a film school — before sending his letter to the Fair Board, and he has indicated that studies will continue to determine the best use of the site.

“That’s what I find so puzzling,” Denson said. “What’s the big rush about closing the place down when they don’t even know what they want to do with the property?
“As for those folks who live around here and want the fairgrounds shut down, they’d better be careful what they wish for. They may find out that there can be lots worse things than a racetrack or a state fair in their neighborhood.”

Marlin, whose father, Sterling, and grandfather, Coo Coo, won seven track championships over the years, was one of about 200 people who turned out for last month’s public hearing on the fate of the fairgrounds before the final vote.

A lot of them wore work shirts with their name stitched on the pocket. Or they wore old ball caps and scuffed shoes. Obviously, several had just gotten off work — they clearly didn’t drop by after playing 18 at the country club.

These were mostly ordinary, working-class folks — the faces you see at stock car races, flea markets or state and county fairs. And if their mood was a tad prickly, perhaps it was understandable.

They may not have a lot of fancy degrees, but don’t count them short. They’re smart enough to know when they’re getting the bum’s rush.


32 Comments on this post:

By: HCPforme on 11/2/09 at 7:01

This column has the situation described perfectly. When the "forward thinking" folks get done redesigning Nashville, what will the tourists come to see? Meanwhile, the same forward thinking folks have no problem sinking money into a convention center they can't realistically figure out how to pay for.

By: govskeptic on 11/2/09 at 7:08

Of course it elitism and an asset power grab to serve someone's financial interest other than the less than $200,000. a yr citizens of this county and area. I've never been to an auto race there and it's been yrs since last going to the fair, but I do go there often for much smaller events. Most recently a modest sized dog show that
could not have afforded anyother rental space in this county. Same for many other
similar events. Over the course of a yr. a large-large number of
people go through the different exhibit buildings. Yes, it could do
without some events, and yes, it could use a little remodeling of
some, but for a county of 600,000 people it's all there is and should
remain as such!

By: Kosh III on 11/2/09 at 7:53

I agree 100%.
Some of us do NOT want to become another Atlanta.
I think it will become May Town or something similar and Dean already has it planned but has to act innocent.
It would be a nice place for a convention center and companion high rise hotel [sarcasm]

By: keyplayer on 11/2/09 at 7:54

Not sure if anyone has heard this:
According to my sources, The city was donated the fairgrounds property with the restrictive conditions that the property be used as a fairgrounds and if/when the city decided not to use it for a fairgrounds it is to be returned to the heirs of the donor. I'm sure the city lawyers are trying to find a loophole around this.

By: Floyd2 on 11/2/09 at 8:59

There is major misinformation in this article. Nashville didn't close Opryland theme park or move the Grand Ole Opry out of downtown. Gaylord Entertainment did both. As a private business, they did both of their own volition. In fact, Nashville opposed both. The closing of Opryland was a major blow to our tourism industry. We eventually overcame it, but it wasn't easy.

I don't have much sympathy for this racetrack. It had the opportunity decades ago to be transformed into one of the big tracks on the NASCAR circuit. My understanding is that it could have been Bristol. It's owner turned it down. Now they want the taxpayers to keep giving them a break on their property taxes. No dice. Also, everyone knows the neighbors hate the racing.

Everything else you metion will wind up with better locations within Davidson County.

Finally, are you actually arguing that Lower Broadway was somehow "better" when it was nasty and loaded with adult bookstores and pawn shops? Get real.

By: dogmrb on 11/2/09 at 9:00

Why is elitism if you don't like noisy car racing? Some people just don't like loud noise. And there is much paved space in this city that is not used. Why not turn many streets into greenways for walking and bicycling? People would be healthier and it wouldn't cost the city and state so much money to maintain. If you are going to look for innovative uses, look beyond the obvious ;-)

By: yazoo on 11/2/09 at 9:05

Ooh! Me Too!

I agree too so totally~~~!!!

Who needs those damn parks and golf courses where your on means of locomotion is typically your own feet and legs?

What we need is some good-old-fashioned fossil fuel powered excitement. None of this quietly observing nature and reducing our carbon footprint! We need 120 to 200 decibel level goober love fun~~!!@! Nothing like working ourselves into a frenzy inhaling that carbon monoxide and partially atomized hydrocarbons.

Elitism? City Paper?

Don't they CROW about 5 million dollar home sales?

And the previous posters? All non golfers probably. I too do not golf but I appreciate the open space they create: It means less neighbors like the writer of this article and the chumps agreeing with it..

By: dwight14 on 11/2/09 at 9:15

what the mayor isnt seeing is that you cant go by the ticket sales at the track...a couple yrs back when the petition save the speedway was going around,people from several states were signing,some from as far as a 1000 miles away...they said they only come to nashville for the races..while here they spend money at other venues...they stated that the track is the reason they come,but while here they rent motel rooms,dine out,shop,some go to the opry and etc...that adds up to thousands of dollars maybe even more that the little playground for racers that some fool is said to have called it brings the city of nashville and its merchants...i know it doesnt have the all at once impact that the bowl game brings in because its spread out over a period of months..but like the wise man once said,thin slices of the ham dont seem like much,but enough and you will soon have the whole ham...if added up,the tourism dollars the track brings in is way more than the music city bowl...lets see,didnt tax dollars build that stadium...but that dont really matter...dollars in taxes spent for the dollars in revenue generated,the track has a nice,very nice impact on the nashville economy and its merchants...simple business..and running a city is like running a business...that little branch of this whole business is raising a lot for the big picture at no cost to taxpayers...and who is running this business? hummm why should they be re-elected...not to smart in running a business now are they...

i really feel for the kids that go with their parents each weekend and get to share in clean family fun..at a time when families are drifting apart,not having dinner together,doing things together etc,they are gonna take away one great thing they do have that brings families together...and it could and probably would as history has shown,spark the career of other professional drivers...now where do they have to go and get a start...they have really fumbled the ball on this one...

let the racetrack continue...those small acres mean huge smiles and great times to many,not to mention the revenue to the merchants..and look at how many successful careers it has gave...all from this little playground for racers

By: Alphadog7 on 11/2/09 at 9:28

I'm not sure I see the elitism, its not like its a great location for another golf course or mall.

For example, I think the city is transforming from "Country Music City" to "Music City" while still being very respectful of it's heritage. Country music put Nashville on the map, and continues to bring huge revenues, why would the city be against those? Most of the bigger cities in the South have been morphing over the last decade, but economics are driving it, not elitism.

By: Dan_Gochberg on 11/2/09 at 9:37

You are right, but not in the way intended. The city should sell the fairgrounds, and the golf courses, and the public housing. No one is questioning the role of government. It is not a question of whether you like car racing. You could love car racing, but still recognize that running a fairground (or giving it tax breaks) is not an essential role of government.

By: Time for Truth on 11/2/09 at 9:41

This is a split decision for me. The State Fair drew about 200k people? Instead of comparing those figures to indoor sports venues, let's compare it to the 600k that attended the Wilson County Fair. And I mirror the observations of Floyd2 on this topic, especially the correction that Gaylord closed Opryland, not the city government. They were likely a major player in moving the Opry out of the Ryman, for that matter. We aren't trying too hard to live in the future, Larry Woody is trying too hard to live in the past.

And the contention that we should close our beautiful parks in favor of the dilapidated and underutilized fairgrounds is just plain silly. What you'd expect from a guy who probably has a shrine to 'Ol' Number Three' in his home.

But with Dean even when you agree with the decision you have to look at the motive. Remember this guy was the hand-picked candidate of the POWER elite if not the golfing elite. The asinine and unwanted Convention Center project will be rammed down our throats even though it will bankrupt the city. And I agree with Kosh that Deano probably has some beano on the back burner for this property.

By: yank283 on 11/2/09 at 10:26

I also echo what Floyd2 says. The city of Nashville didn't have anything to do with the Opry moving out of the city. It was the greedy powers that be that made that decision to demolish Opryland and replace it with an already outdated mall and "new" opry with more seats. The mall doesn't cater to Nashvillians and has no really redeeming value, and has the aesthetics and soul of a strip mall in Cool Springs. Instead of setting an example, building community and helping the city, they moved the Opry outside of the inner city core away from the perceived inner city problems and issues. Sort of like most the people who watch racing and attend the fair had been moving since desegration in the late sixties, the suburbs.

By: yank283 on 11/2/09 at 10:33

I would like to also add that I know many people who are race fans and they are great people who would disagree with me. Aslo, I enjoy listening to the many stories and history of the speedway Larry Woody recalls on the local radio stations. I love listening to anyone with that amount of knowledge and history no matter what the subject. It is an integral part of the history of Nashville. I just disagree with most of the points given in this commentary.

By: Time for Truth on 11/2/09 at 11:03

I also enjoy Larry's observations when his opinions don't get in the way. And I even enjoy watching a good race every once in a while although usually on TV as background to whatever else I'm doing around the house. But saving this property as is begs the questions 'why?'

By: Time for Truth on 11/2/09 at 11:19

...and 'why?'.

By: frank brown on 11/2/09 at 11:28

I have had about enough of the "forward thinking folks"

By: Time for Truth on 11/2/09 at 12:35

And which Frank Brown are you today?

By: Time for Truth on 11/2/09 at 12:39

If 'forward thinking' is wasting a billion dollars on the MCC, I'm with you. And look how badly botched 'forward thinking' was in the 60's. But the past is mostly gone and some of what is left isn't worth saving.

By: everloyal on 11/2/09 at 3:19

Finally, the word "elitism" is correctly being used to describe those opposed to retaining the State Fairgrounds. A couple of points. The last three mayors (Bredesen, Purcell, Dean) were/are non-native Tennesseans who do not appreciate and could care less about the heritage associated with the Tennessee State Fairgrounds. They cared nothing about sacrificing this heritage for development of downtown Nashville. For example, Bredesen moved Fan Fair from the Fairgrounds to downtown without providing a replacement at the Fairgrounds. That was a major financial hit to the Fairgrounds and the beginning of the effort to close the Fairgrounds. Purcell got caught making noises to close the Fairgrounds and due to public outcry, had to promised publicly that he would not close the Fairgrounds. Dean was smarter. He appointed a political hack who had little if any business experience or sense who he (the Mayor) knew would run the Fairgrounds into the ground and would give him (the Mayor) the excuse he was looking for to close the Fairgrounds. Interestingly, the State Fair made a profit for the four years prior to Doizer's appointment. The two fairs that Mr. Dozier ran lost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Not surprising considering Dozier's track record at the Fire Department and the fact that he brought his friends and cronies (whose only qualification was that they knew Buck) to work at the Fairgrounds . But, the Mayor knew this would happen. Combine this with a well known real estate lobbyist being appointed by Mayor Purcell to the Fair Board and becoming its chairman (fox in the hen house), the cards were really stacked against any chance that the Fairgrounds would survive. So what can be done to save the Fairgrounds? To be realistic, at this time not much. However, the Mayor should be held accountable for his actions. Now is the time to start looking for someone to replace him during the next Mayoral election and to begin a campain fund now to do just that.

By: localboy on 11/2/09 at 3:23

Luckily we have at least two vocal camps in the community - one looking to incorporate change and development, and another that is attempting to reconcile that while maintaining access to our past. The tidal forces between the two have managed to keep the city from becoming another homogenous 'anywhere usa', but it continues to be almost a daily battle.
Thanks, Larry.

By: not_guilty on 11/2/09 at 3:28

From what I understand, keyplayer is right. I don't recall where I read this, but I seem to remember that the donation of the fairgrounds land was contingent upon holding an agricultural fair there, such that the property would revert to the heirs of the donors if that use of the land was discontinued. A similar situation occurred a few years ago resulted in the Metropolitan Board of Education losing the property on Nolensville Road where Turner School was located. When the property ceased being used for a school, the property reverted to the heirs of the donor.

By: BenDover on 11/2/09 at 4:29

All the gang thugs roaming the midway are the reason for the closure. Lebanon is the new home to the Tennessee State Fair.

By: lisaleeds2008 on 11/2/09 at 8:00

Historic Tennessee State Fairgrounds
The property of the State Fairgrounds is a property rich in history, dating back to the time
before there even was a state of Tennessee or a city of Nashville. The fairgrounds are the largest and
last portion of a 640 acre tract of land belonging to an early settler, John Rains. Rains was given that
section of land by the new United States as a reward for service in the Revolutionary War, as was the
custom with soldiers of the Revolution. At that time, there was no state of Tennessee, and the area was
a part of North Carolina, inhabited only by the Native Americans.
This practice of rewarding soldiers with land for their military service ensured that the frontiers
of the new country were settled by loyal and hardy men.
Rains, originally a native of Virginia, set out with his family to claim his land grant along the
Cumberland River, and along the way met up with a group of other Revolutionary veterans led by
James Robertson. And so on that cold wintry Christmas day of 1779, Rains and his family crossed the
frozen Cumberland River along with 200 other settlers to found what would become the city of
While Robertson built Fort Nashboro, Rains built another blockhouse fort in the center of his
property (approximately where the public television station sits on Rains Road) that served to help
fortify the new city. Water for the Rains family came from a spring close to what is now the
Nolensville Road entrance to the State Fairgrounds.
The local natives did not take kindly to the usurpation of their land by the new settlers, and
relations were warlike for several of the early years of the community. Rains was one of the leading
defenders of the area and was often called upon by Robertson to lead raids against the natives.
Rains is credited with bringing the first herds of cattle and horses to the region, and his herds
grazed in what is now the fairgrounds along Brown’s Creek, and his crops grew on the hill overlooking
the area.
The area prospered and in 1784, the state of North Carolina incorporated the city of Nashville at
what was then known as Fort Nashboro. In 1796, after North Carolina had ceded its land to the United
States, the state of Tennessee was admitted to the union.
John Rains continued to be an outspoken and prominent citizen of Nashville living to the ripe
age of 91, dying in 1824 and is buried in Mt. Olivet Cemetery.
Rains’ property was divided among his eleven descendants, and on this property grew another
piece of Nashville history.
Before there was country music, before there was a Ryman, there was horse racing in Nashville,
and horse racing is what first put Nashville on the map.
During the mid-to-late 1800’s there were numerous horse racing tracks scattered in and around
Nashville—at one time there were at least six in simultaneous operation in the city. But the most
famous of all was the one known as Cumberland Park, situated on the site of the current racetrack at
the fairgrounds.
But Cumberland Park was the most famous of all, at one time hosting the largest purse in the
world for horse racing. Events at Cumberland Park were reported not only nation-wide as regular
features in papers such as the New York Times, but all around the world.
But in 1904 a new era was ushered in with the advent of automobile racing at Cumberland Park.
Drivers came here from the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis and held the first automobile event at the
track. Among the drivers was legendary driver Barney Oldfield, and speeds reached an incredible 60
mph during that first race.
The automobiles continued to race, and interest in horse racing declined, in part due to the
outlawing of gambling in Tennessee in 1906. Cumberland Park, now know as the State Fairgrounds
was acquired by Davidson County in 1909.
But the next big event at the fairgrounds was not on the ground, but in the air. In June of 1910,
the U.S. Army held maneuvers and an exhibition at Cumberland Park, attended by the Secretary of the
And around 10 p.m. on the night of June 22, noted airman Charles K. Hamilton took off from
the racetrack making the first night flight in the history of aviation.
was flying an
aircraft designed by
the noted Glen
Curtiss and made the
flight with a
searchlight strapped
to the bottom of his
aircraft, aimed forward. The flight lasted about 20 minutes and reached an altitude of about 600 feet
before Hamilton brought his aircraft down in the field just past the racetrack.
At the end of that week the
Nashville Board of Trade presented
Hamilton with a gold medal, encrusted with
diamonds to commemorate the event.
Another unusual event took place at
the racetrack on December 15, 1929.
There was a racehorse named John
R. Gentry who dominated the horse racing
world during 1890’s, setting a world record
for trotting horses by approaching the two-minute mile with a time of 2:00.25.
At the time of his retirement in 1900 John R. Gentry was owned by E.H. Harriman, father of
diplomat Avril Harriman, who sent Gentry to Nashville to enjoy his retirement in a special stall built
for him at the fairgrounds, along with an adjoining apartment for his long-time trainer, Sam Seay.
John R. Gentry died in 1920 at age 32—the oldest noted racehorse in the world at that time—
and was buried in the infield of the fairgrounds racetrack. Over 100 people attended the funeral,
conducted by the Reverend George Stoves and eulogized by poet laureate John Trotwood Moore.
However, automobile racing continued at the fairgrounds and in 1958, dirt track racing ended
there as the track was paved. That same year brought NASCAR sanctioning to the track, and for the
next 50 years, the fairgrounds racetrack was home to everyone who was anyone in the world of
NASCAR. Drivers there during this period included the great Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Bobby
Allison, Coo Coo Marlin, Darrell Waltrip, Geoffery Bodine, Bill Elliot, and even country music star
Marty Robbins.
Over the years, the fairgrounds have had ups and downs, burning to the ground in 1965, but like
a phoenix rising once again from the ashes, it has always been a place for family fun and fond
memories—the swimming pool, coliseum, the roller coaster, and of course the venerable Fair Park
which brought excitement and fun to thousands of Tennessee children. These are sacred grounds,
imbued with over 100 years of the smell of popcorn, corndogs, and sticky cotton-candy. The proud
kids from 4-H with their prize cows, chickens, pigs, and sheep and their mothers and grandmothers
with their biscuits, pies, jellies and jams. And everywhere is the smell of “agriculture”, that life-blood
of the south.
Currently the fairgrounds belong to the people of Davidson County, but it’s in danger of
becoming just another historic marker on the side of the road.
There’s been a lot of talk lately of selling off the fairgrounds and turning the land over to
developers. While this might bring some short-term profit to the county, it can never replace the
history and tradition of the fairgrounds—once that is gone, it can never come back.
At this time the Fairgrounds are very centrally located for all the residents of Davidson County
with ideal access both by public transportation and interstate connections. So far, the only proposal for
a new location is for property in Bordeaux, near the county landfill. This would be a limiting factor as
far as access to the Fairgrounds by the majority of residents. This central location is also a selling point
for non-fair events such as the Christmas show, the flea market and other events.
The Fairgrounds also currently contributes to the local businesses such as restaurants, motels,
and gas stations surrounding the property.
Surveys taken of the local residents indicate that an overwhelming majority wish the
Fairgrounds to remain right where it is, and for improvements to be made to the property.
The Fairgrounds Heritage Preservation Group is a group of concerned citizens, banded together
to foster the preservation and quality of this community resource that has been handed
down to us from past generations.
Join us by making your wishes known to the “powers that be.” If we the people write the
Mayor, the City Council, the Fair Board— even the governor and your state legislators if you wish—
then we can speak with the power of the people. Tell them that you want this property that belongs to
the people to remain intact. The only changes that need to be made are improvements. Tell them to
follow the law as it is written.
If we all stand together, we can be assured that this valuable asset remains forever the property
of the people, and will be passed along to our children and our descendants, just as it has been for the
past 100 years

By: SRJ on 11/2/09 at 9:34

Gee, Larry Woody hit the nail on the head. I am glad that someone had the guts to state the truth. I remember being told, from reliable sources, that Karl Dean had made the decision to close the Fairgrounds, prior to being elected Mayor in 2007. What Nashville needs is a smart businessman like Mack Smith running the Fair Board again. Mr. Smith ran it like a business and it made money.

By: some1else on 11/3/09 at 2:15

great article Larry...

i realize the part about the parks was a bit tongue-in-cheek, but consider that:

1. the fairgrounds is the most historical piece of property left in Davidson County

2. the fairgrounds bring more visitors to Davidson than the mayor's proposed civic center is projected to do.

3. hundreds, if not thousands, of people rely on the various fairgrounds operations for their livelihood.

4. the fairgrounds contributes approximately $500,000 to Metro's income through various "service fees" it pays to metro.

5. i won't repeat your statistics about the titans and the preds, but the fairgrounds brings in more visitors than any other venue in Davidson County.

6. even on a local basis, the fairgrounds provides recreation and entertainment to *hundreds of thousands* of area residents.

7. the fairgrounds accounts for a large amount of sales tax revenue through vendor sales at all of it's events, and the events themselves, such as the flea market.

8. the fairgrounds accounts for a pretty 'fair' amount of business to all the restaurants, gas stations, motels, etc. in the area, not to mention the folks who spend a bit downtown while they're here.

9. the fairgrounds is totally self-sustaining and has never cost Davidson County a dime in over 100 years of operation.

10. the fairgrounds has resources available to carry itself many years into the future.

compare all of this to *any* or all of the Metro parks, the current civic center, the future civic center, the sommet center, titians stadium or any government entity in Davidson County and it pales by comparison. why would the mayor want to send all of those people, all of those jobs, and all of that revenue to other counties like he's suggested?

so what kind of back-door deal is this carpet-bagger mayor trying to pull?

just another damnyankee come south to show us poor southerners how it's done!

"Delta is ready when you are" mr. mayor.

By: BigPapa on 11/3/09 at 8:29

That's a nice spin Larry Woody put on the issue. Nothing like making it a class issue rather than a reasoned discussion on what is best for the area, kinda like playing the race card- appeal to emotions vs rational thought.

That area is terrible. It's not a good place for a fair, it's hilly, it's an asphalt jungle dotted with a few concrete block buildings. I can't imagine a worse place to go for a "state fair." As far as racing goes.. I fail to see the logic of keeping a race track open because someone famous used to race there 30 years ago. Look they just tore down Yankee stadium, a place full of much more sporting history than the Nashville race track could dream of, so looking at the "history" is a losing position.
I usually disagree with Dean, but on this issue I'm behind him 100%. Tear it down develop it, and move the fair to another area of town.

By: scounce2112 on 11/3/09 at 4:10

elitism, no...ignorance, yes.

It's sad to see that folks don't see the history, or even care. There are so many points to make, I'll just try to keep it brief.

1. Young Mr. Marlin is correct, unless you are 105, you can't complain about the noise. You knew it was there when you moved. Get earplugs or something.

2. The place is a bad neighborhood. No kidding. Just drive through and look around. But do you think that closing it and buidling something will acutally make the surroundings better? That's what was said about Greer Stadium and wow, they were right. Build that and the area will clean up and businesses will flock to it. (That is sarcasm for those that can't grasp it.)

3. Why should it make money? I thought it was for the use of the citizens. Just like libraries, parks, golf courses, old forts, ball fields, police cars, fire trucks, convention centers, arenas and various other things. They are there for the citizens to use and have when needed. They are't supposed to make money. Those are services set aside and paid for by taxpayers. If they have fees and break even or come close, then they are beneficial.

4. I basically grew up at the fairgrounds, so I've seen a lot of affect it has had on my life and others. Not just riding rides and going to races as a kid, but going to the flea market and random other events throughout my entire life.
There has actually been a coin dealer in the same spot for my whole life - 41 years. I'd say the flea market must have something to do with his livelihood.
There was a guy selling drinks and such for most of my life. And I even saw him recently at Greer Stadium selling drinks. I'm guessing the fairgrounds had something to do with him making a living. I'm guessing he is around 60 and still lugging that big box of drinks around his neck.
My point is that, for some folks, it's not just a few acres of hills and concrete buildings with a bunch of noise and a bad location. For some folks its a job. And a difficult, low paying one at that. But it's all some have.

5. Why close it if there are no plans for future use, and there are reserves tucked away to cover any operating losses? What's the point. There's not a lot of money out there for loans to build things, so my guess is it would just sit empty and fall info further disrepair. Just like the former site of the tire store on the corner of 13th and Demonbreun. Just empty space waiting for somehting to happen. Seems just as stupid as quitting a job before you have another one.

6. Wasn't there just a few million dollars put into renovations? That seems brilliant. Why fix up something if you think you'll just close it. Why even bother. Just close it then. Just another case against government running things or being in business. Fix it up and close it...now that's a plan (more sarcasm)

7. There was an opinion earlier written that you could close the race track and cut its carbon footprint. You could also cut out a lot of carbon polution if people would shut up long enough to listen. Too many are talking so much, they talked themselves right past the real issues. Ultimately, it's really not about a bunch of land in a bad neighborhood, or an old brickoblock building or 10, sometimes it's not about you. Sometimes its about something bigger than you. Sometimes it's good to have history and a place to celebrate it. Sometimes it's good to put down the cell phone and just look at a cow or buy a country ham or watch a car go in circles. Sometimes it's nice to just walk through the flea market and people-watch or even just say hi to someone. Maybe growth isn't all it's cracked up to be. Sometimes it's ok to step back and just do nothing. That's what I see the fairgrounds as. Just a place to get away and do nothing. Sort of like Metro should do.

By: idgaf on 11/4/09 at 1:13

Good idea Larry but would have been more effective if you included figures what the golf cources (don't forget the water park) are costing us and was much shorter.

By: AgentSteph on 11/8/09 at 8:57

Come on. The racetrack is a noise nuisance from Germantown to Green Hills. The surrounding depressed neighborhoods of Wedgewood, Houston, Chestnut Hill, Vine Hill, Rains, Waycross, and Berry Hill are all full of "regular, everyday folks" who would much rather see 20% property value increase than a migraine headache!

Also, doesn't HCA want to buy the land to compete with Vanderbilt's 100 Oaks redevelopment? Now THAT sounds like a money-maker for everyone.... especially for the jobs it will bring to Davidson county.

By: Face on 2/8/10 at 1:49

Man I'm glad all of you are so quick to share you opinion..Now how many of you live within a few city blocks of the fairgrounds? I'm betting about 1% Now as someone who does can I ask why excatly do you feel the need to keep my property value from rising? Oh and I can answer something for the genius writer here...“I once heard somebody say that the city doesn’t need a ‘playground for race drivers.’ Well, the city sure has a lot of ‘playgrounds for golfers.’ What the difference?”THE DIFFERENCE IS THAT I CANT HEAR THE GOLFERS FROM MY HOUSE!

In short tear that mother down, let my property value rise and if you don't live near it shut up.Keep your panties on I'm sure the flea market can make you pay to park at some other location so you can go buy some trash..and I'm sure there are other places you can watch cars drive in a circle.

By: Face on 2/8/10 at 1:52

Also @ Scouce 2112. you said..1. Young Mr. Marlin is correct, unless you are 105, you can't complain about the noise. You knew it was there when you moved. Get earplugs or something. Go to hell maybe this area is where a first time home buyer could afford a home and shouldn't be made to put up with rednecks driving in circles

By: scamp4907 on 11/17/10 at 7:28


There are many ways the Fairgrounds could be usd, and make money. To start with, people come to Nashville for the Westerm at,ps[jere/ They might be going to another state and have their horses with them. Why couldn''t the Fairgroun stalls be rented out, for those who need a place to feed their horses, and take care of them? It seems to me that having a facilty like that available would draw more people.

We have a farmer's market in North Nashville, on 8th Avenue. Couldn't there be one at the Fairgrounds in South Nashville as well?

Move the time of the Fair back, a month, or even 6weeks? So more people could attend during their stopover in Nashville?

How about horse shows?

I truly believe that people come to Nashville for the Western atmosphere, and to keep the Fairgrounds and use it for Western venues, would attract more people. We do not need anymore highrise towers for office space or build anymore condo's. While Nashville is a city, I think it should keep it's Western Town atmosphere. Could even use the track for go-cart races. Why do the richiest elitists feel like they have to tear everything apart and leave the rest of us with nothing?